Saudi businesswoman Lama Younis established her own company in 2003 to create and market cosmetic products for women in Saudi Arabia. Younis says that there are distinguished businesswomen who have excelled and proven themselves in the private sector.
She says, however, that Saudi society still looks down upon women working in marketing. While she believes that success is based on persistence and excellence, she also said that social awareness programmes need to be put in place to encourage society to accept women working in this field.
Al-Shorfa sat down with Lama Younis and talked with her about how she started her own company, and the obstacles that women have to overcome to be successful in business in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Shorfa: How did you first get into business?
Lama Younis: In 2003, I decided to start my own business after acquiring the necessary professional expertise, information and networks of people that I built during my years as a sales consultant for cosmetic products and other products designed for women in the Saudi market.
I decided to establish a private company in Riyadh called ‘Colaya’ and hired a Saudi workforce to benefit my country as much as possible. All profit stays in the country and is not transferred abroad, and all the money flows right back into Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab region.
Al-Shorfa: What hurdles did you come across and how did you overcome them?
Younis: Among the problems I faced in the beginning were Saudi women’s lack of expertise in marketing and also the absence of the concept of and conditions for training. At our company however, we ensured that there was sufficient time for training and after hard work, we were able to overcome this obstacle. Add to that the committed and dynamic Saudi woman, who was able to prove herself.
Al-Shorfa: What are the benefits of using “network marketing” in your business, where women sell your products on their own from their homes?
Younis: Network marketing allows women to gain the necessary expertise in marketing and also helps fill a big gap for women by doing something useful that allows them to make extra money. It also gives them the flexibility not to have to commit to certain working hours or a certain workplace.
Al-Shorfa: How does Saudi society view women who work in marketing?
Younis: Female marketers are still looked down upon and many of our employees face resistance from home and intolerance from the outside world. What is required here is to intensify awareness raising programmes in society to accept female marketers and to help them succeed.
Al-Shorfa: Tells us about ‘Colaya’.
Younis: We are the first Saudi company that markets its own products and we are not representatives of any foreign company in the country. We manufacture products in European factories custom made for women in the Arabic market. Our products are also sensitive to our climate in the Arab world and specifically in the Arab Gulf region. I have never shied away from implementing my idea since it is a new one.
Al-Shorfa: How many sales representatives work for you?
Younis: There are 7,000 sales representatives in all and 90% of them are Saudi nationals.
Al-Shorfa: How would you assess the success of working Saudi women, despite the fact that there are no more than 20% of women in the workforce?
Younis: Success is based on persistence and excellence. Women have not only been able to come up to speed with, but also compete with, men in business. There is no denying that there are prominent businesswomen who have excelled and proven themselves in business.
Al-Shorfa: In your opinion, why is there a negative perception of Saudi women in the West?
Younis: The West’s interest in Saudi women only started at the turn of this century. What you read and hear in the writings and lectures about Saudi women presents them to the world as if they are recently discovered beings that were stashed away for a long time. There are lots of people who are ignorant of or simply choose to ignore the Arabic and Islamic culture and speak of the negative place of women in the eyes of Saudi men as well as Islamic society’s culpability in depriving women of rights they should be enjoying.
What is strange about this is that the West receives its information from unreliable sources. Another source has been some women that live in the West who do not represent either Saudi or Muslim women and who have strayed from their roots that connect them with their nations. Some are motivated by purely personal experiences that have encouraged them to take such a stance.
An important factor that has contributed to the misinformation in the West regarding Saudi women is that the majority of women who represent the true Saudi culture have not had their voices heard in the West and are still confined within [Saudi] society
tags: saudi arabia. saudi. businesswoman. business. middle east. arab.
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